Every sport has its superstars. People who can perform at their very best when under the greatest pressure. Ones who can turn a game around when all seems hopeless and who the fans all adore.
But, of these stars, sometimes one shines more brightly than all the others. So much so that they become the face of that particular sport. In football, it’s a player like Patrick Mahomes, and in basketball, various players have worn that particular crown in the past. These have included such illustrious names as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and, arguably, the highest profile of them all, Michael Jordan.
It wasn’t just his record as a player that earned Jordan the position, impressive as his six NBA championships, five MVPs, and 14 All-Star game appearances may have been. It was more a question of the charisma of the man and the brand that he successfully built around himself. It’s a brand that continues to be so strong that he reportedly still earns $150 million a year from Nike alone some twenty years after his retirement.
The game’s true megastars often save their best for the finals that come at the end of the season. So when we’re looking for likely candidates to be the face of the NBA, there’s a strong chance he’ll come from one of the most favored teams.
Looking at the NBA Championship odds for this year there may not be any possible. First, the Boston Celtics and the second favorites, the LA Lakers, have one player who is arguably already the face of the NBA.
What can you say about LeBron James that hasn’t been said already? As the legendary ex-player Charles Barkley has put it, “To be number one, ready at 18, to where he is 20 years later, the greatest scorer in NBA history. I think it’s the greatest story in sports history”.
It’s all the more remarkable that he never even came through the college system, getting drafted straight from high school. His influence goes far beyond basketball, too, with a profile developed through involvement in charities as well as expressing sometimes controversial political opinions. So while he might not have a sneaker named after him, he is undoubtedly a worthy successor to Michael Jordan.
Next up is the Philadelphia 76ers star, who has given himself the catchy nickname “The Process” – because you can always trust the process to perform. His actions on the court have certainly supported this boast. Playing as a center, he’s equally useful whether defending or attacking, and his 33.1 points average per game helped him on his way to being named the MVP for the 2022-23 season. This success led the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green to comment, “To put that pressure on yourself and actually go deliver, I got a bunch of love and respect for that.”
The Dallas Mavericks’ Slovenian player has certainly managed to make a big impression in the four seasons that he has been with the team. As well as great on-court performances, he has also managed to notch up a Rookie of the Year award, three All-Star appearances, and was included in the All-NBA First Team.
His imposing 6’7”, 230lb physique makes him an imposing presence, an extra advantage for anyone wanting to become the new face of the game. TV pundit and ex-player Mark Jackson has said of Doncić that, for him, he represents “an absolute combination of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.”
Given the slightly insulting nickname of “The Greek Freak” due to his great size and skill, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Antetokounmpo is widely regarded as one of the very best power forwards of all time. This season has seen him hit career highs of just under 32 points per game with 10 rebounds and five assists per game. He also notched up three 50-point games over the course of the normal season. A candidate for this season’s MVP, he missed out on Joel Embiid, although he carried the title in both 2019 and 2020.
Our final player in the line-up may be something of a left-field choice, but the Charlotte Hornets’ LaMelo Ball has definite star quality. The 2020-21 Rookie of the Year is still only 21 but is showing promise that he may well one day join the greats of the game. He’s been breaking all kinds of records for the team, and it’s just unfortunate that another kind of break ended his season prematurely. But he’ll be back, stronger and better than ever, next season. Whether he’ll also go on to be the face of the sport remains to be seen. But he certainly will be one to watch in the future.